Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

More Than Just a Setting for a BBC Comedy Series; It May Have Been the Setting for Two Recent BBC Comedy Series, but the Story of Hebburn Began Centuries Ago

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

More Than Just a Setting for a BBC Comedy Series; It May Have Been the Setting for Two Recent BBC Comedy Series, but the Story of Hebburn Began Centuries Ago

Article excerpt

"A SMALL town with a big history," is how author and local historian Derek Dodds describes Hebburn.

Its history stretches back to Anglo-Saxon times when it was a tiny fishing hamlet.

The Victorian age saw its expansion on the back of developing industry, in particular coal mining and shipbuilding. The railway arrived in 1872, prompting more growth.

Chief among the major early players in the town's history were Andrew Lesley from Aberdeen who introduced shipbuilding in the 1850s, and Frenchman Alphonse Reyrolle who founded his giant electrical switchgear company in 1901.

Leslie's original firm launched an impressive 255 ships at Hebburn until 1885 when it merged with locomotive builder R & W Hawthorn of Newcastle.

During the boom years of the early 20th century, the yard list shows a great variety of vessels - passenger ships, early oil tankers, British and foreign naval vessels and great lake steamers - were built at Hebburn.

Perhaps the most famous ship constructed at Hawthorn Leslie was HMS Kelly, launched in 1938 and commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten who would visit the town regularly until his death in 1979.

The proud vessel was sunk by the Luftwaffe in May, 1941, during the evacuation of Crete. Half of the ship's crew perished, and the name of HMS Kelly remains inextricably linked with Hebburn.

Meanwhile, at its peak, Reyrolle employed 12,000 people and manufactured switchgear for power stations worldwide.

Production was halted briefly in 1926 when news reached the girls in the workforce that silver screen idol Rudolph Valentino had died, and mass hysteria followed for a short time!

The inter-war depression which blighted most of the North did not spare Hebburn.

Writer JB Priestley was appalled by the poverty when he visited in the 1930s, but he also praised the spirit of the townspeople.

Like many of its neighbours, Hebburn has suffered from the ups and downs of the economy, but it also benefited from slum clearance and the construction of a new civic centre in the post-war era.

Derek takes up the story: "In the space of just 200 years, Hebburn has been transformed from a small fishing hamlet into a modern town of 20,000 inhabitants."

He went on: "It was a town largely built on industry - but it has fine parks and buildings which survive to this day."

YOUR MEMORIES | John Collins: I remember The Victoria Park club and the Jarrow Elvis roadshow on Sunday and Wednesday nights. Great times were had by all, and the humour was only understood by the people of Hebburn, Jarrow and Pelaw. Sadly it's all gone now, and there is a care home on the site.

Kim McGlen: On researching my family tree, I always had believed our family lived in Washington and then went to Gateshead. But no, my great great Grandparents lived in Jarrow. …

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